Off Course: From public place to marketplace at Melbourne University
Scribe, $30 pb, 234 pp
Should the recent turbulent history of one university in one state of Australia matter to us? Some of the critics of Cain and Hewitt’s Off Course think not. Australian higher education has ‘moved on’, they claim. There is no question that the right ‘On Course’ for one-time public entities – from gas companies to universities – is to graduate from public ownership and statutory obligation to marketplace and deregulated freedom. Cain and Hewitt have simply missed the boat.
But have they? In the helter-skelter of change since the Dawkins ‘reforms’ of the late 1980s (which saw the abolition of the binary divide between universities and colleges, and a vast increase in the numbers of students undertaking tertiary education), there has been much movement at the top but not an equivalent acceleration of public enlightenment. There is a residual, stubborn, Robert Menzies-inspired public conception of what a university means and what nation-building role it should play in a democracy.